The other night I met a networking buddy for happy hour tacos and beers.

If the term “networking buddy” is new to your vocabulary, stick around.

A few years ago, that term wouldn’t have resonated with me either.

In fact, I used to cringe when I heard people talk about networking.

Networking Nightmare

I imagined awkward people in awkward business suits walking around having awkward conversations and awkwardly trying to sell me stuff that I would have to even more awkwardly find excuses not to buy.

But you know when have a friend who’s really amazing, and she recommends a movie that you never thought you’d like, but you trust your friend so you take her advice…

…and the next thing you know you’re watching the best movie you’ve ever seen?

Yeah, that’s what happened with me and networking.

I agreed to attend an event because my friend Gina told me I would love the group.

Next thing I knew, I was surrounded by vibrant women who were the complete opposite of everything I’d imagined networking to be. They weren’t “schmoozing” and throwing business cards at one another.

They were just being themselves.

Sure, they were talking about their businesses. But they were also talking about their passions. Often these were one and the same. These women were open and inviting and vivacious.

I ended up joining the Women’s Network of San Luis Obispo, even though at first I was so nervous about presenting my business that no one really knew what I did.

What If Networking Felt Good?

Fast-forward back to the other night.

Now I’ve now been a member of this group for two and a half years, and on its board of directors for two years.

People not only know what I do, they think of me immediately whenever someone in their life talks about writing for their business.

The woman I was having dinner with is brand new to the group. She’s only been to one meeting and is still trying to figure out who everyone is. She said she feels a bit intimidated by the whole networking thing.

She asked me what I get out of the group and out of being on the board. I thought about it.

The short answer is that I get business referrals and speaking engagements.

The slightly longer answer is that I’ve forged deep friendships, received life-changing services from phenomenally talented practitioners, and enjoyed collaborating with other super-smart women to nurture a thriving community.

But the even longer answer is that all of the business opportunities and friendships have actually come out of the fact that this group has given me the space to be my whole self. When I show up there, I get to be who I am, cheesy puns and all. I don’t have to hide my silly side or pretend to be super serious and business-y.

I also don’t have to hide my light. This is not a place where women compete with one another or apologize for taking up space and being leaders. We shine.

Being on the board and lending my skills to this group means I also get to show my knowledge and expertise. I get to show up as an engaged, intelligent, creative problem-solver.

And here’s where beach volleyball comes in.

Shining Your Light

Right before this turn in the conversation, my networking buddy and I were chatting about hobbies.

I asked what she did for fun, and her eyes lit up as she told me about playing beach volleyball. She’s been playing since high school and I could tell from the way she talked about it that it brings her huge joy.

She mentioned that recently she got a job offer while playing volleyball.

How did that happen? Well, when she’s at volleyball she’s in her element. She’s confident. She talks abut her passions, interests, and skills in a really natural way.

She didn’t realize she was doing it, but she was networking at volleyball.

Because what she was really doing was relaxing enough for people to get a chance to know her.

The same thing happens to me — and to everyone else — at my networking group

When you show up as your real self, it’s magical.

Your light shines through. You share your spark. You give off contagious energy.

And others see your power and what an asset you could be to a team.

And whamo! Connections are made. Jobs are offered. Even if you’re wearing a bathing suit and cutoffs — the farthest thing from an interview power outfit there is.

Don’t Get Caught in the Net

Ready to “spike” your next networking event without getting tangled in the net and face-planting like a fool? (Oh wow, even I can admit that was a terrible pun. I was trying to make a volleyball reference but it sounds like I was telling you to add booze to your networking. I don’t necessarily recommend that…)

Bad puns aside, if you want to actually build a network, you need to keep the conversation going after the event. That’s right. You need to follow up.

Before you start gagging or remembering what you have to do instead of network, take a breath cuz I’ve got your back. I created 6 different Steal Me! scripts for writing follow-up emails that work. Grab ’em here and stop dreading sending your next follow-up.